Following workshop #5, we continue on our exploration of the proper conduct or more so the ‘to dos’ with the Niyamas. Although I like the rules from the Yamas, the Niyamas seem a bit softer and actions that you can take instead of actions not to take with the Yamas.
Teddy, the senior teacher teaching the workshop, made an analogy of a recipe as to how to think about the Niyamas. Reflecting on what is the actual recipe but also what are all the pieces (or ingredients) that make the recipe. Interestingly, she pointed to the lineage as a key ingredient but also the actual practice as being what one can taste from the recipe. The analogy helped us sift through the Niyamas with a new perspective. Here are the details...
1. Saucha- Cleanliness
Clearly personal cleanliness is important yet, this Niyamas is more about the cleanliness of the mind. How can we purify our thoughts? I have had many yoga practices that have been rushed into or started with a negative mindset or layered with what has happened thus far in the day, yet I can say with confidence that those practices have ended with pure thoughts and a sense of emptiness (in a good way).
We discussed the power of the breath in Saucha. Pranayama is very helpful for cleansing thoughts. I suppose that is why breath work is included both at the beginning and end of a yoga practice. It's the gift of purifying the mind.
2. Santosha - Contentment
Santosha is a tricky one for me. Not that I am discontent but more about being content in EVERYTHING. Not rushing. Not trying to get to the next thing or place or time. Not over striving because I think that is the only way I will succeed. Santosha allows for reflection on what really matters in your life.
3. Tapas - Discipline
Although sounding severe, Tapas is about finding one’s inner fire and passions. Seeking dedication to something worth working on. This can then expand our consciousness and inner wisdom which can lead to recognizing that everyone is one.
4. Svadhyaya- Self Study
One of the lovely benefits of practicing yoga is Svadhyaya. I’d argue that every time we step on our mats, we are diving into an exploration of ourselves. First and foremost, the body is explored but as a practice continues not only during a single class but over many sessions, the breath begins to reflect our current situation. Ultimately, an opportunity for self-exploration and the resulting self-knowledge. Svadhyaya is just that, self study including exploration of things that harm us but also serve us.
5. Isvara Pranidhana - Surrendering to a Higher Power
What I welcomed during this workshop was the way Teddy presented Isvara Pranidhana. Stating that we are to surrender to ‘the god of your own understanding’. If it is the Christian God or the ‘Big Mind’ in Zen or even possibly ‘Mother Nature’ herself, this Niyama is a chance to let go of the story telling and expected outcomes and just soak in the mindset that it will all truly be up to a higher being. I suppose easier said than done!
The Niyamas are the inner work. Those things that are internal to us. The order seems to reflect the grossest (Saucha) to the deepest (Isvara Pranidhana) part of us. Maybe similar to putting together a recipe?
Interestingly, if we can quiet the mind and open the heart, we are best suited to live by the Niyamas.
Aspiring Yoga Teacher
I've practiced yoga since I was a pre-teen and have always found it to keep me centered. I will be a teacher one day and this is my journey to discover teaching and practice.